Hollywood has a long, storied and often problematic history of political protest movements.
From the Hollywood blacklist to “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, from freeing lobsters to #FreeTheNipple, activism in La La Land has ranged from the illiberal to the illogical and the downright idiotic.
But in the wake of the bombshell allegations of horrific and systemic sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein, it seems Hollywood might be on the verge of figuring activism out.
A group of more than 300 female producers, directors, actresses, lawyers and other Hollywood leaders have joined forces in an effort to give more women across more industries a real voice.
Before we get to that, a quick recap of some recent activism in Hollywood is helpful.
In 2013 Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters asked his fellow rock artists to protest the “Israeli oppression” of Palestinians by declaring “a cultural boycott on Israel,” which not surprisingly sounded to a lot of other people in Hollywood like rank anti-Semitism.
There was the Hollywood boycott of the celebrity-filled Beverly Hills Hotel in 2014, which protested its Sultan of Brunei owner who’d banned homosexuality. Given that celebs still flocked to other such homophobic destinations — including Dubai and Abu Dhabi — to make movies and appearances, the short-lived boycott was little more than an empty gesture.
Trump, of course, has brought on a whole new wave of dumb boycotts, from celebrity fashion designers refusing to dress the First Lady to celebrity videos vowing to resist, survive or generally continue on living in the era of Trump.
In one of the dumbest and least meaningful protests yet, there was the ill-fated attempt by celebs like Jon Cryer and Zoe Kazan to boycott People magazine in 2016 for putting the President of the United States on its cover.
Rosa Parks moments these were not. If you cared about real issues, like peace in the Middle East, human rights abroad and sexism here at home, these stunts did little to affect any change at all.
Likewise, hashtag activism deserves some deep cynicism. While social media can play an important role in spreading messages and democratizing access to ideas, hashtags without organization end up fizzling out.
The #MeToo movement was potent, however. Not because it was a hashtag, but because it invited meaningful but realistic action. While I didn’t know how to stop a murderer like Joseph Kony and I couldn’t free 276 kidnapped school girls in Nigeria, I could share my stories of sexual harassment. I did, and so have countless others.
But the #MeToo tipping point has arrived, and now it’s time for “what’s next?”
The group of more than 300 women, including Ashley Judd, Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes took out full-page ads in the New York Times and Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión announcing the Time’s Up initiative, which focuses on several fronts: raising legal defense funding for women in blue-collar jobs who report sexual harassment; urging new legislation that makes reporting and punishing sexual harassment more efficient and less cumbersome; making it harder for big companies to use nondisclosure agreements to silence victims; and promoting women to more powerful positions.
Sounds good, but will it work? The group’s GoFundMe page has already raised $13 million for its legal defense fund. It’s been meeting regularly to put action behind rhetoric, knowing the #MeToo moment will slip away without organization. Its reach is importantly beyond the hills of Hollywood and out toward the unseen corners of workplace harassment and violence, from farms to factories to restaurants, where reporting violations is often difficult if not impossible.
Time’s Up is finally, it would seem, activism with some teeth. It isn’t perfect, however. One of the first acts of protest — urging celebrities to wear black to awards shows — reveals a worrisome willingness to keep lunging toward those lazy, meaningless and empty gestures that cheapen the seriousness of an issue. If you’re a sexually harassed hotel maid, are you at all moved by what Meryl Streep wears to the Golden Globes?
Awareness is fine. Action is better.
And while Time’s Up is a good start, it’s missing a crucial element it will very soon have to add: men. A group of all-women activists can send a powerful message to be sure, but without the help of men — powerful ones in Hollywood, state legislatures, corporate America and the media — this will only get so far.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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